Becoming a successful leader is hard. Changing your leadership style when you finally make it to the executive or senior management level can be even more difficult. After all, you’ve already identified what works for you and have “made it.” Shouldn’t this formula continue to work?
The answer is a resounding “No.” The hard work that got you to the executive level does not necessarily translate to success. The truth is that leadership traits exist in individuals, but we only develop into executive leaders through experience and mentorship. Articles, seminars, and degrees build a foundation, but a mentor will help save you from making the kind of mistakes that can cripple your organization for an extended period of time.
Mentors at the executive level can be hard to find based on time constraints and the expectation that you already know how to lead. Here are three techniques I’ve learned that you can incorporate into your leadership acumen to refine your skills.
1) Praise in Public, Criticize in Private
Hands down, this is the single most important lesson a strategic leader can learn. Nothing stifles creativity and destroys a team as much as being criticized by a senior leader in front of peers. You didn’t like it when it happened to you, but you correct a direct report in front of everyone at the first board meeting. You get immediate results by doing this, but you end up stifling innovation on your team. The mantra is simple, only praise your employees for positive performance and provide strategic guidance during group meetings. Nobody handles shame or failure well. If a leader requires a course adjustment or is just plain wrong, handle it in private after the meeting. They and their peers will appreciate your compassion and continue to look for ways to improve the organization.
2) Know When (and How) to Step In
You can’t lead from behind a desk. Effective senior leaders still make the time to visit various sections involved in the development of their product. It demonstrates investment in the entire organization and provides you an additional means of quality assurance. Inevitably, you are going to see something not being done to your standard. Your initial impulse will be to fix the issue right then and there. Don’t do it!
You want employees to share their ideas and work with you, not hide when you arrive. You also need to empower leaders to operate successfully in your absence. Your direct reports need to correct issues with their processes in order to stay connected and continue to grow.
Here is the way I recommend you react when you see something not being done to your standard.
1) Find something (or anything) that the employee or team has done right. Tell everyone what a great job they did at that one thing. Then leave the area.
2) Later, tell the direct report responsible for that section to fix it.
Problem solved – you continue to build an innovative team and empower managerial direct reports.
3) Talk to Everyone
When you become an executive leader, you stop being a “doer.” Simply put, your time is better spent developing and refining strategic processes to grow or improve the company. Unfortunately, this removes your ready access to the real talent in your organization. You can actually miss out on opportunities for corporate improvement because your direct reports don’t have the cross-organizational knowledge to identify them. How do you fix this?
Talk to people in your organization every chance you get. Don’t just talk to leaders, talk to everyone from interns all the way up to your direct reports. Show interest in what they do, what they think, and how they enjoy working for the company. Then thank them genuinely for their hard work. You will be amazed at what you learn about the organization and how this one gesture effectively builds a team. Will issues be brought to your attention that should be handled at a lower level? Absolutely. It only takes a moment, however, to jot down a note and tell the employee to follow up with their leadership on your behalf. You’ll be amazed at what gets done.
To make it to the executive level, you likely have the operational experience, work ethic, intelligence, and commitment to be successful. Add these three techniques to your leadership portfolio and you will not only improve, you will increase the capability and performance of your entire team.
Michael Quinn is a former Case Officer that decided to give up a “movie-worthy” career in order to become a leader and INSPIRE others to do more. His previous articles include: How This One Question Helps Build A Team and Why Motivation vs Inspiration Arguments are Just Plain Wrong!